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Court: Student newspaper, Web site can challenge Florida autopsy-photo law

By The Associated Press

04.06.01

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A college newspaper and Web site can challenge the constitutionality of a law prompted by race car driver Dale Earnhardt's death that restricts access to autopsy photos, a judge ruled yesterday.

Circuit Judge Joseph Will said he wants to decide whether the public has the right to view autopsy photos. A hearing will be held this month.

"Individual and personal privacy rights are in conflict with public-records law," he said. "We need to resolve that."

Earnhardt's widow, Teresa, had believed a compromise reached last month with the Orlando Sentinel had put to rest any claims by the public to view the autopsy images of her husband.

The judge's decision "is most distressing. I'm sure that's how Mrs. Earnhardt will take it," said her attorney, Judson Graves.

The Independent Florida Alligator is run by University of Florida students but is not an official university publication. Managing editor Trey Csar said the newspaper hadn't decided what it would do with the photos if it won access to them.

"It's hard to do something if you don't know what they are," he said.

The Internet site, Websitecity.com, has been criticized for posting autopsy photos of other NASCAR racers.

The Sentinel and its sister newspaper, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, based in Fort Lauderdale, are also challenging the law but in another county.

Autopsy photos had been public records in Florida until last week, when Gov. Jeb Bush signed a measure making it a felony for a medical examiner to make the photos public.

In February, four days after Earnhardt died in an accident at the Daytona 500, the judge granted his widow a temporary injunction sealing the autopsy photos. The Sentinel objected, saying it wanted its medical expert to review the photos for its investigation into NASCAR safety.

Teresa Earnhardt reached a compromise with the Sentinel to permanently seal the photos after an independent medical expert viewed them and wrote a report. The report is expected next week.

Update

Florida judge hears testimony on autopsy-photo law
Attorneys seeking access to Dale Earnhardt photos call statute vague, unconstitutional.  06.11.01

Related

Earnhardt autopsy photos are public record
By Ken Paulson Why the rush to change Florida law? Publicís demand to stop press from doing its job should worry us all.  04.08.01

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